Page 1 - Why Holders Of Foreign Bank Accounts Need To Worry About IRS’s Voluntary Disclosure Data-Mining Program
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Daily Tax Report®
Reproduced with permission from Daily Tax Report, 166 DTR J-1, 08/28/2012. Copyright   2012 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (800-372-1033)
Why Holders of Foreign Bank Accounts Need to Worry About IRS’s Voluntary Disclosure Data-Mining Program
Have you ever been surprised by Facebook or LinkedIn’s ability to suggest people to whom you may be connected, when even you had forgotten how you were connected to those people?
Perhaps the social networks’ technology crunched data that you provided on your home town, Boy Scout troop, high school, first job at McDonald’s, or fly- fishing hobby, to find latent connections between you and a long-lost acquaintance.
U.S. taxpayers who are still considering whether to disclose their accounts need to understand that IRS’s data-mining software increases their risk of being detected.
Use of such data-mining technology is widespread, and the Internal Revenue Service has adopted it to find taxpayers with undisclosed offshore bank accounts.
U.S. taxpayers who are still considering whether to disclose their accounts need to understand that IRS’s data-mining software increases their risk of being de- tected. They should act accordingly and seek legal ad- vice immediately.
According to a Sept. 21, 2011, report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), IRS’s data-mining software is called the E-Trak Off- shore Voluntary Disclosure system.
Jay Nanavati is counsel at Baker Hostetler. He practices criminal tax defense, white collar criminal defense, and civil tax contro-
versy. Most recently, he was assistant chief of the Western Criminal Enforcement Section
of the Justice Department Tax Division. He can be reached at jnanavati@ or (202) 861-1747.
E-Trak does not lack for data inputs. Since 2009, more than 33,000 taxpayers have contributed detailed information to E-Trak by participating in IRS’s Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP).
The OVDP provides for reduced civil penalties, gen- erally 27.5 percent of the highest aggregate account bal- ance, and protection from criminal prosecution. On the other hand, detection by IRS can lead to a number of painful consequences, including civil penalties that can be larger than the balance in the accounts and criminal prosecution.
Taxpayers with undisclosed accounts need to act be- fore E-Trak and IRS find them. This is because taxpay- ers whose accounts IRS has discovered are ineligible to participate in the OVDP.
Unfortunately, even if you have not heard from IRS, it may already be too late to come forward and partici- pate in the OVDP. This is because eligibility depends on when IRS discovers your accounts, not on when IRS in- forms you of its discovery. This makes it imperative that taxpayers with offshore accounts discuss their options with an attorney immediately.
Taxpayers with undisclosed accounts have options. First, they can enter the OVDP and pay a penalty. De- pending on the taxpayer’s circumstances, including the reason for the creation of the account, an attorney may be able to negotiate a greatly reduced penalty with IRS.
Second, they can enter the OVDP and choose to ‘‘opt out.’’ This allows the taxpayer to use the OVDP’s pro- tection from criminal prosecution while choosing to go through a full IRS audit instead of paying the pre- scribed OVDP penalties. A taxpayer for whom a 27.5 percent penalty is inappropriate might choose this op- tion.
Finally, the taxpayer can make a so-called quiet dis- closure. This means filing amended tax returns and Re- ports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBARs) for the years for which the statute of limitations is still open. While a quiet disclosure does not provide the pro- tections of the OVDP, certain taxpayers with small ac- count balances and other favorable characteristics may find this route attractive.
Whichever option the taxpayer chooses, full disclo- sure is essential. There is no such thing as a partial dis- closure. Coming into the OVDP means inviting IRS’s thorough scrutiny of your financial affairs.
The only thing worse than failing to disclose your off- shore accounts is presenting an incomplete, and there-
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